Glowing Richard Dawkins in NYTs?

Writing a provocative, timely, compelling profile is tough. How do you write a profile without becoming enamored with the successful book sales, the dynamic speeches or the captivated audiences? You want to describe and elaborate on why an individual is so successful or effective in his or her work, so it’s difficult to remain completely objective.

These are questions that came up for me as I read a New York Times profile of Richard Dawkins, known in religious circles for his atheism.

It is a measure of Britain’s more resolutely secular culture that Professor Dawkins can pursue his atheism and probing, provocative views of Islam and Christianity in several prime-time television documentaries.
…Critics grow impatient with Professor Dawkins’s atheism. They accuse him of avoiding the great theological debates that enrich religion and philosophy, and so simplifying the complex. He concocts “vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince,” wrote Terry Eagleton, regarded as one of Britain’s foremost literary critics. “What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?”

Put that charge to Professor Dawkins and he more or less pleads guilty.

Wow, what a tough charge. Why not just ask “How are you just so awesome?”

The reporter does try to contact someone who might take the criticism bait but receives a “no thanks.”

Of late he has taken up the cudgel for atheism, writing “The God Delusion,” an international best seller. When Martin Rees, Britain’s astronomer royal, recently accepted a prize from the John Templeton Foundation, which promotes a dialogue between science and religion, Professor Dawkins was unforgiving. Dr. Rees, he wrote, is a “compliant quisling,” a traitor to science. Dr. Rees declined to counterpunch.

Professor Dawkins often declines to talk in San Francisco and New York; these cities are too gloriously godless, as far as he is concerned.

This is interesting and revealing–how does he feel about Tim Keller and other pastors’ huge Christian networks in NYC?

“I’ve had perfectly wonderful conversations with Anglican bishops, and I rather suspect if you asked in a candid moment, they’d say they don’t believe in the virgin birth,” he says. “But for every one of them, four others would tell a child she’ll rot in hell for doubting.”

Really? Publish that without either getting feedback on or off the Record from some Anglican bishops? I wonder if they would print something from an Anglican bishop that said something like “With atheists, I rather suspect if you asked in a candid moment, he believes in Jesus.” You probably wouldn’t publish that without at least checking with a few atheists, right?

He insists he frets before each lecture. This is difficult to imagine. He is characteristically English in his fluid command of words written and spoken. (Perhaps this is an evolutionary adaptation — all those cold, clammy English days firing an adjectival and syntactical genius?)

Sure, you’ll occasionally see these kinds of glowing profiles of religious thinkers, but I’m trying to remember the last one I saw in the New York Times. Honestly, I’m not really looking for them. I’m rather have a thoughtful, big-perspective piece than a reporter-fascination attitude.

Am I being defensive? I certainly hope not. I turned to Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta for some perspective.

There was a very positive profile of Richard Dawkins in today’s New York Times by Michael Powell. It’s not everyday you see such glowing coverage of an outspoken atheist, so savor it while it’s there.

Yes, Mehta liked parts of the piece (less related to religion), but he does outline some criticisms:

–The headline uses the word “Bashes” — we could’ve done without the implied imagery. Dawkins is anything but violent
–There’s really no new information about Dawkins. He loves science, he thinks religion is hogwash, he doesn’t talk much about his private life, he had academic battles with Stephen Jay Gould. Nothing his fans haven’t already heard before.
–There’s virtually no mention that Dawkins has ever been criticized by anyone within atheist circles. No mention of Elevatorgate (maybe for the best…), no mention of AC Grayling‘s for-profit school which Dawkins will lecture at. You can still write about those things without making a big deal of it.
Those are small issues, though. By and large, this is a welcome article and I’d love to see more like it.

Are they really small issues? The headline frames the article. A profile is supposed to break new ground. If there are criticisms within atheist circles, shouldn’t they come up in the piece, at least briefly? From an advocate’s perspective, is it better to have a glowing profile that tells us nothing new than something more objective? Maybe it is, I don’t know. Really, not to sound defensive, but can we imagine the same piece being published on Tim Keller, Charles Chaput, even Francis Collins? Please weigh in.

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  • Bennett

    The beauty of Richard Dawkins is that he not only tells avowed enemies of religion what they want to hear, but he does it with a fancy English accent and a command of invective that makes his fans (and have no doubt, they are indeed ‘fans’, not ‘supporters’ or ‘colleagues’ for the most part) feel that they are not only right to agree with him, but much, much smarter, classier, and funnier than the ignorant masses. Heck, look at how he, Dennett, Maher, and others branded their little secular church-movement–”The Brights.”

    Small wonder that a profile on him would be “glowing”, n’est ce pas? Particularly when you consider how much religion coverage sounds like sociologists from Mars commenting on the superstitious rituals of Earth’s insipid “natives”. I’m not implying that reporters are heathens, but they probably do like to consider themselves above and apart from the kind of person who uses the term “heathen” unironically. So there’s bound to be some sympathy of perspective with the vaunted Dr. Dawkins–who, by the by, one can’t help but to note is far better known for his participation in a field which he knows less than little about than in his chosen realm of academia. Yet he’s allowed to bandy about his education as if it were somehow pertinent to theology, sociology, philosophy, ontology, epistemology, cosmology, or any other field that his work impacts upon. A less charitable reporter might have asked him some searching questions about that very fact.

    But it’s not nice to question one’s own clergy, is it? Only other peoples’.

  • Jeffrey

    Well, this is a science profile where many Dawkins critics are cited in reference to his
    Science. Looking at that his quotes that put Sarah on the defensive, they seem to speak for themselves given then setup that he’s controversial. So do you really need a NY or Anglican expert as counterweight?

  • http://aleksandreia.wordpress.com Hector

    Honestly, I’d regard the statement that an Anglican bishop disbelieves in the Virgin Birth as libelous, unless Dawkins can provide evidence. Where’s the evidence?

  • Heather

    Wow, what a tough charge. Why not just ask “How are you just so awesome?”

    :-)

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    Hector, a _Time_ article back in 1924 identified an Anglican bishop as someone who didn’t believe in the necessity of the virgin birth.

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,717437,00.html

    “[O]ne bishop — William Lawrence* — stands out as a champion of theological tolerance. His attitude is clearly presented in a booklet entitled Fifty Years. In 50 years of priesthood, says the Massachusetts bishop, he has seen most revolutionary changes in the thought of mankind. This has taught him that change is an element of human life. It is not to be feared. It is to be used. “No discovery of science has taken from us our faith,” but “when we realize how our conception of the universe has been enlarged ten thousand times, we have a conception of God ten thousand times greater, nobler and more spiritual than was that of our fathers.” Hence, although he believes in the usefulness of creeds, Bishop Lawrence refuses to insist on the literal interpretation of any creed, or of the Bible.

    For example, although he is personally inclined to accept the traditional idea of the Virgin Birth, he says it is not essential to Episcopal faith.”

    And that was then. Me, I don’t find it implausible–or libellous–at all that now, in a theologically more diverse 21st century, there may be some Anglican bishops who’d go further than Lawrence on the virgin birth.

  • http://aleksandreia.wordpress.com Hector

    Randy MacDonald,

    I don’t deny that such people exist- what I said was that if they do exist, then they should be summarily fired and defrocked. Nor did I say Dawkins was necessarily wrong, only that he should not make such claims (even if they are true) unless he has good evidence. In England, the libel laws are more conservative than they are here, so he especially should not make such claims there.

    In point of fact, the official creeds and liturgies of the Anglican Communion do accept the doctrine of the virgin birth. Therefore, Bishop Lawrence and his buddies are at odds with their church.

  • Martha

    Hector, when a bishop of Durham (Dr. David Jenkins, back in the 90s) was able to make a statement about not believing in the literal Resurrection of Our Lord because he didn’t believe in “a conjuring trick with bones”, I don’t see any reason for Professor Dawkins to posit that there are some out there who don’t believe literally in *name your doctrine of choice*.

    Indeed, Professor Dawkins may well have had Dr. Jenkins in mind when he made that statement; from an article in “The Independent” upon the bishop’s retirement in 1994:

    “Two months later, he consented to a recording in the library at Auckland Castle of a discussion about his beliefs. ‘To believe in a Christian way, you don’t necessarily have to have a belief that Jesus was born from literally a virgin mother, nor a precise belief that the risen Jesus had a literally physical body,’ he said; and when this was attacked, he responded with a phrase that would continue to dog him: ‘(The Resurrection) is real. That’s the point. All I said was ‘literally physical’. I was very careful in the use of language. After all, a conjuring trick with bones proves only that somebody’s very clever at a conjuring trick with bones.’”

    And from a BBC News report in 2010:

    “A study among clergy of the Church of England carried out by researchers from Bangor University five years ago also found widespread doubt.

    Although almost all Anglican clergy on the whole believed in the existence of God, a third doubted it.

    Eight out of 10 believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and two thirds in the Virgin Birth.”

    So that means that at least 2% of the clergy in the Church of England don’t believe in the Resurrection (whether this means they hold some kind of belief in it as a metaphor or what, I don’t know) and a whopping 30% (more or less) don’t believe in the Virgin Birth. There was some joke floating around a few years back that being an atheist didn’t necessarily debar you from being a CofE clergyman, or as the quote variously attributed to either Auberon or Evelyn Waugh puts it:

    “In England, we have a curious institution called the Church of England. Its strength has always been in the fact that on any moral or political issue it can produce such a wide divergence of opinion that nobody — from the Pope to Mao Tse-tung — can say with any confidence that he is not an Anglican. Its weaknesses are that nobody pays much attention to it and very few people attend its functions.”

  • http://independent.academis.edu/JimFarmelant Jim Farmelant

    I kind of get the impression that Sarah isn’t all that familiar with the Anglican Church, or at least she seems less familiar with it than Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is almost certainly correct concerning the beliefs held by Anglican bishops. There was the famous case of the bishop John A.T. Robinson, who as the bishop of Woolich, wrote the bestselling book, Honest to God, in the early 1960s which challenged traditional Christian belief in a God “out there”, instead recommending belief in a non-supernatural God who is the “ground of ur being.” His theology drew upon the work of Tillich, Bonhoeffer, and Bultmann. The controversy over his book pretty much brought his career to a halt.

    In more recent times, the Anglican Church has seen the theologian Don Cupitt who promotes what he calls a non-realist philosophy of religion. In his book, Taking Leave of God, Cupitt wrote: “God is the sum of our values, representing to us their ideal unity, their claims upon us and their creative power.” In the US, retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong popularizes rather similar views in his books and lectures. These guys, of course, are skeptical of doctrines like the Virgin Birth. But their skepticism towards doctrines like the Virgin Birth (a skpepticism that BTW has been shared by a number of Anglican bishops) would seem to be small potatoes compared with their other awowed views.

  • http://aleksandreia.wordpress.com Hector

    Martha,

    All that may be true, but again, Dawkins ought to provide evidence for who he suspects of infidelity to the doctrines of their faith, and what evidence he has for it. These are serious accusations, and evidence needs to be provided.

    If I said, “I suspect that many Republican congressmen cheat on their wives” I would be expected to provide evidence for that, or else I would nt be taken seriously.

    I should add that as much as I dislike Dawkins, I have a ton more respect for him, then for someone who continues to remain an ordained and practicing priest of a church in whose doctrine he no longer believes.

  • http://aleksandreia.wordpress.com Hector

    Tomas,

    His ignorance of theology, however, affects the quality of what he writes about religion. When he says that people believe that bread and wine become the body and blood of Our Lord, or that Mary was assumed into heaven without dying, ‘because the Pope thought it up’, well, that’s simply not true. Lots of people who aren’t Roman Catholic believe those things, and lots of people believed in them long before Rome ever made dogmatic pronouncements about them.

    Most Americans are ignorant of the science behind evolution, as well. But if a theologican were to write about the theological implications of evolution, he would be expected to understand at least the bare bones of the consensus science done by experts in the field, not the caricature of evolution that you might get from polling the customers at a Wal-Mart.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Sorry folks. I am about to do some pruning of these comments. Anything that doesn’t touch on journalism or the point of the post will be spiked. Take your comments about religion elsewhere. Thanks.

  • http://forgottencenotaph.geocities.com J. Lahondere

    Although I agreed with most of this post, I did not understand the criticism of this particular part:

    He concocts “vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince,” wrote Terry Eagleton, regarded as one of Britain’s foremost literary critics. “What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?”

    Put that charge to Professor Dawkins and he more or less pleads guilty.

    When I read that I initially thought this article was being posted as a good example, not a bad one. The argument of the religious against Mr. Dawkins is that he really DOES concoct vulgar caricatures, and that he knows nothing about the rich philosophical history of Christianity. This wasn’t veiled praise to me, although I guess to some his ignorance would be considered a sign of his awesomeness. Antony Flew, a prominent atheist-turned-theist philosopher, raises many of the same objections about Dawkins in his book There Is A God.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Hector -

    Spong retired as, and remains a bishop of The Episcopal Church, and his views are public. I’m linking to the Wiki article because it’s a nice summary, but you can find his views directly here. He remains a speaker at various diocesan events, including one in Nevada when the current Presiding Bishop was diocesan there.

    As to The New York Times and positive reviews of serious Christians, check out this body of work and decide for yourself.

    As to Dawkins and his fellow travelers, I’ll take them seriously when they acknowledge the tens of millions of murder committed in the name of atheistic Communism. Let me see the schools, hospitals, social services, and humanitarian efforts, and then I might be interested in what they have to say about the destructive power of religion.

    In the meantime, this article is just more “evangelism” for the NYT’s religion.

  • Gabriel Austin

    I thought Mary Midgeley had pretty well demolished Richard Dawkins some years ago; and in the GUARDIAN. Dawkins comment was that she was mean. No answer to her comments.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    … Going back to the journalism, one problem that arguably affects the comments on the article more than the article itself is a lack of knowledge about foreign–i.e., non-American–Christianities and the patterns of belief and disbelief which reign outside. It’s demonstrably common knowledge in the United Kingdom that many prominent Anglicans have a critical relationship to core tenets of the Anglican faith. I don’t know whether American Christians are actually less critical or just think that they are, but this contrast and the lack of understanding of the contrast–on both sides–is a major issue.

    Should the NYT article have described that? I’m inclined to say yes: British Christianity does seem to be rather different than its American counterpart, and I can believe that the close links between the UK and the US might not extend to religion.

    Should the _criticism_ of the NYT article have been informed by basic knowledge of Anglican theologhical controversies? Definitely. It doesn’t look good if you criticize someone for saying something supposed controversial that turns out to be correct–common knowledge, even–after a quick Googling.

  • str

    If this was a “science profil”, as Jeffrey said, why not include something about Dawkins’ scientific work. Then again, there isn’t just much there.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: why not include something about Dawkins’ scientific work

    STR,

    As I said in my first comment, before Sarrah Pulliam Bailey spiked it, that’s because there isn’t that much of it, at least in the last 20 years.

    I work in a different field of biology, but I interact with some evolutionary biologists (I’m in an ‘ecology and evolution’ department), and I guarantee you that their conversations with each other at work (or, for that matter, over lunch or coffee) don’t revolve around Dawkins and his thoughts about religion.

  • str

    Randy,

    of course “British” Christianity (the quotes because Britian is not uniform in this) is different from the Christian scence in the US or elsewhere.

    But not in the rather simplistic way you try to frame it. The CoE plays a larger role there than ECUSA does in the US. Spong-like figures are to be found in either but they are not as dominant as in the American counterpart. OTOH, Free churches are not as developed as in the US.

    In any case, Dawkins should theoretically have given examples or evidence. But, well, he’s Dawkins so there goes your evidence. But the writer of the piece should at least have pressed the issue on this and other claims made. But as the writer seems a fan, he won’t.

  • str

    Hector,

    that’s what I said.

    Do your colleagues desist from taking about RD’s anti-religion or do they desist from talking about RD period?

    The only pieces of science by him I can recall is the “egoist gene” and the “meme theory”, the former correctly described as “science fiction”, the second not actually natural science but bad philosophy.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    Hector: “I’m annoyed by the fact that Dawkins seems to be trying to ‘normalize’ these folks and to suggest that they’re to be admired, respected or condoned.”

    From Dawkins’ perspective, these people might well be admired, respected, or at least condoned. I fail to understand how it would make this article on Dawkins a better article for Dawkins to out some of the bishops not believing in the Virgin Birth, since their existence is already well-known to the British public, at least. It would have been nice if the journalist did include this fact for those of his audience not familiar with this trend.

    Are Dawkins and the journalist supposed to break personal confidences and identify dissenting Anglican clerics so they could be duly punished by their church? There may be journalistic agencies concerned with enforcing conservative Anglican norms, but the NYT isn’t one of them.

    STR, it’s quite possible to talk of significant differences between different national Christian traditions, including the different traditions of the United States and the United Kingdom. The two countries have very different religious histories and have diverged over time, such that even the religious institutions which exist in both countries–like Anglicanism–have diverged substantially. Americans, including the author of this post, do not seem very aware of the extent to which their religious norms are their own, and that other countries’ may differ substantially. In this particular case, very many Anglican clerics–never mind Anglicans–disagree with their church on basic tenets of the faith, are known to disagree (in the abstract and in the particular both), and have been known to disagree in the abstract and in the particular for some time.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Randy McDonald,

    Re: I fail to understand how it would make this article on Dawkins a better article for Dawkins to out some of the bishops not believing in the Virgin Birth, since their existence is already well-known to the British public, at least

    It’s well known that such bishops exist? Or that, specifically, Bishops A, B, and C don’t believe in the virgin birth?

    It would be a big help to the rest of us if we knew which priests don’t believe in the virgin birth, so that we can stay the h*ll away from their churches (no pun intended). Also, it would be nice for Dawkins to provide, you know, some evidence for his claims.

    By saying, without comment, ‘I bet most of the priests I’ve talked to don’t believe in the virgin birth’, Dawkins is implying that that kind of apostasy is normative, or acceptable, within the Anglican church. It actually isn’t: we do actually have creeds, and all three of them make clear reference to the virgin birth, as do the Gospels, the Councils, and consistent Christian tradition dating back to the first century. That there are Anglican clergymen who don’t believe in the Virgin Birth, is no more interesting or informative than the fact that there are Roman Catholic clergymen who break their vows of celibacy. People violate the doctrine and discipline of their churches all the time- this is not news. It would be news if (God forbid) the Church of England deleted the reference to the Virgin Birth from the Creeds, but that isn’t what happened here. What this is is nothing more than a boring, tedious reminder of the fact that people are sinners, and do things/believe things they know they shouldn’t.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Are they really small issues? The headline frames the article. A profile is supposed to break new ground. If there are criticisms within atheist circles, shouldn’t they come up in the piece, at least briefly?

    Perhaps things like that could have been brought up… but you could look into them and see that they are, in fact, minor. Go ahead and look up Elevatorgate.

    Frankly, though, I would like to see a profile that wasn’t the standard ‘celebrity’ type – which this was. On the other hand, it’s sort of what happens when someone has a new movie or book out.

    (Oh, and sheesh is there a lot of hate for Dawkins here. As to his theology, I’ve personally found his chief ‘sin’ to be not using the terminology, rather than not addressing the concepts. As to his science… it can be downplayed as well as exaggerated. He’s not a new Einstein… but neither has he made no contributions to his field.)

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: As to his science… it can be downplayed as well as exaggerated. He’s not a new Einstein… but neither has he made no contributions to his field.)

    I don’t believe I said ‘he has made no contributions to the field’. I said he had made no contributions within the last 20 years, at least as far as one can tell by looking at his posted CV. He’s certainly a skilled writer and popularizer of scientific concepts, and I greatly profited by reading his book ‘An Ancestor’s Tale’ a couple years ago. What he isn’t, anymore, is an original researcher.

    I’m not qualified to opine on the quality of his research from 20-30 years ago, not being an evolutionary biologist.
    But let’s put it this way: Dawkins is an animal behaviorist by training, and when I took a survey course in animal behavior back in undergrad, I remember coming across the names of a great many other seminal researchers, but we didn’t mention Dawkins. I don’t think he’s one of the great names in the field- which, again, is not to say that he never made any contributions.

    What theological ‘concepts’ do you think he has successfully addressed, to your satisfaction?

  • str

    Randy,

    sure there are differences between the US and the UK and also between other places. But not the simplistic way you make it out to be.

    it is ridiculous to think that these heretical bishops would be punished for their views as these are well known. But it is dishonest for Dawkins to claim that these are quantitatively normal. (I don’t believe he applaudes them however, as Dawkins rapidly hates anything Christian or religious, even if it is watered down to the extreme.)

    Hector and Randy,

    RD once did scientific work. A little and long ago. But I can’t see any merit in the little actual science he did. The two items I pointed out are actually quite worthless. And what about his squabble with Gould?

  • Susan

    Richard Dawkins has proved that atheists can be antisemites too when he said that atheists should have a lobby as powerful as the American Jewish lobby. The NYTimes ignored that.

    They also ignored that Dawkins called Karen Armstrong an atheist because she believes in God, but not in the conventional personal God.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Hector, str – This isn’t the place to debate actual theology – or science, for that matter. We can take it to the coffeehouse, or my email address is easy to find.

    However, journalistically speaking I can show an example of a review of his new book that ignores what he actually wrote in favor of what the reviewer wanted him to write.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Susan –

    Richard Dawkins has proved that atheists can be antisemites too when he said that atheists should have a lobby as powerful as the American Jewish lobby.

    His actual words here:
    http://outcampaign.org/RichardDawkinsIntroduction

    “Atheists are more numerous than religious Jews, yet they wield a tiny fraction of the political power, apparently because they have never got their act together in the way the Jewish lobby so brilliantly has: the famous ‘herding cats’ problem again.”

    Saying that a group has a powerful and effective lobby is not the same thing as saying the lobbying or its goals are illegitimate.

    They also ignored that Dawkins called Karen Armstrong an atheist because she believes in God, but not in the conventional personal God.

    Read the actual exchange to see if that’s an accurate characterization:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203440104574405030643556324.html

    “If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They’ll be right.”

  • http://aleksandreia.wordpress.com Hector

    Ray Ingles,

    Armstrong may be many things, but she certainly isn’t (anymore) a Christian. And ultimately her sort of hippy-dippy spirituality is far more dangerous to the Faith then Dawkins’ brand of crude atheism.

    I think I mentioned above that while I don’t agree with Dawkins on virtually anything religious, and we probably wouldn’t get along, I do respect him more than Armstrong and people like her. He at least has the honesty to see that it really matters whether the miracles happened, whether God, the devil, and the angels really exist, and whether the central events of the Gospels are historically and literally accurate. Of course, unlike Dawkins I do believe that miracles have happened and continue to happen, and that the Christian story is historically and literally true. But we can both agree that these questions are important ones, and that Christianity is not just a matter of pretty stories and symbols.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Hector – Neither I nor Dawkins claimed she was a Christian, so I’m not sure what your point was exactly. I was pointing out sources so Susan’s claims regarding omissions in the NYT profile could be judged in context, that’s all.

  • R9

    It’s not a particularly hard hitting interview. And I’d like to see one just as much as the Christians here, if only to see what kind of responses he comes up with. But like Ray says it’s just a fairly standard celeb profile.

    Why not just ask “How are you just so awesome?”

    Come on, this is a little silly. The paragraph quoted is just pointing out how when Dawkins is accused of not responsing to complex theological arguments, his response is basically to shrug. Which will be sensible to some and a sign of a weak intellectual position to others.

    And yes people, Coffee House. For all your non-journalism discussion needs! Given how often we like to go off-topic, it really should be more popular.

  • sari

    Ray,

    Re: Dawkin’s quote on the Jewish lobby. The lobby is powerful because Jews from ALL backgrounds come together over certain issues. The Holocaust demonstrated that assimilation offered no protection against entrenched anti-Semitism. Religious Jews constitute a minority of the Jewish population in just about every country, including Israel. So, his comment demonstrates ignorance of Jews, their communities and degree of affiliation (unless he defines a religious Jew as one who occasionally sets foot in a synagogue), or he is subtly playing the International Jewish Cabal card. Either way, Dawkins seems to have no problem passing off opinion as fact.

    The article was, imo, unbalanced and poorly researched. When presenting someone as controversial and strongly opinionated, sources should be solicited and their voices heard.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    Hector:

    “It would be news if (God forbid) the Church of England deleted the reference to the Virgin Birth from the Creeds, but that isn’t what happened here. What this is is nothing more than a boring, tedious reminder of the fact that people are sinners, and do things/believe things they know they shouldn’t.”

    If one-third of Anglican clerics in the UK do reject core beliefs of the Anglican tradition, the toleration of said mass rejection does imply it’s taken as a non-issue by British Anglican.

    Ultimately, you shouldn’t be criticizing this article for not being what you’d like it to be–i.e. something that would identify heretical Anglicans–since there’s no chance that this article could ever have been such.

    str:

    “sure there are differences between the US and the UK and also between other places. But not the simplistic way you make it out to be.”

    How am I being simplistic, please?

    “it is ridiculous to think that these heretical bishops would be punished for their views as these are well known.”

    Is it? Judging by commentators like Hector, who’d like Dawkins to identify thee bishops by name so that their heresies can be dealt with, it’s as ridiculous to imagine that these bishops would not be at increased risk of punishment.

    Sari:

    “The lobby is powerful because Jews from ALL backgrounds come together over certain issues. The Holocaust demonstrated that assimilation offered no protection against entrenched anti-Semitism.”

    And Dawkins’ argument was that atheists, too, need to develop political postures and groups in common to deal with shared issues and put forward their views. What’s anti-Semitic about that?

  • sari

    Randy-

    I don’t really want to get into an argument about a comment referred to outside the article, so I’ll simply say that he imputes more power to religious Jewry (or all of Jewry) than it actually has and that this kind of comment, reworded for each generation, usually constitutes a sort of veiled antisemitism. Not a stretch, when you consider his comments about the stupidity of other religions and their adherents. Think of it as a backhanded compliment, an obvious dis to those in the know, but polite enough to pass muster with everyone else.

  • str

    Randy,

    “Is it? Judging by commentators like Hector, who’d like Dawkins to identify these bishops by name so that their heresies can be dealt with, it’s as ridiculous to imagine that these bishops would not be at increased risk of punishment.”

    That’s not what he said and I guess that’s not what he meant. Of course, these people should be kicked out but neither he nor I seriously expect it’s going to happen.

    Rey,

    I was (partly) talking journalism, (partly) responding to others. And please, spare us all the constant reference to an irrelevant, uninteresting website.

    Hector,

    I wouldn’t call Dawkins honest.

  • str

    Sari,

    I agree with you. The “powerful Jewish lobby” is usually seen as an antisemitic stereotype.

    And given that Jews are also a religion and RD’s bigotry towards all religion is well known …

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: Is it? Judging by commentators like Hector, who’d like Dawkins to identify thee bishops by name so that their heresies can be dealt with, it’s as ridiculous to imagine that these bishops would not be at increased risk of punishment.

    How is demanding that people be honest about their beliefs and live up to what their profession requires, a ‘punishment’? If a man routinely and unrepentantly cheats on his wife, then I think his wife has a right to know, and I don’t think telling her counts as a ‘punishment’. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. What we are talking about here is the spiritual equivalent of adultery.

    Anglican clerics are expected to assent to the articles in the Creeds, period. (I’d expect them to assent to much, much more than the Creeds, of course, but let’s use that as a base minimum). If one of those folks doesn’t believe in the Creeds, then he needs to be called out for it. Part of the reason that I go to the parish I do, when I’m in my home city, is because I know that the priest there means what he says and says what he means: he believes in church tradition, strongly enough that he made the personal sacrifice of a vow of celibacy (which is not required in our church). If I went to another church, I would want to know whether the clergy there really believed what they’re expected to believe. I don’t find that an unreasonable requirement.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: If one-third of Anglican clerics in the UK do reject core beliefs of the Anglican tradition, the toleration of said mass rejection does imply it’s taken as a non-issue by British Anglican.

    No, it’s not. Many Americans do recreational drugs, that does not mean that America, as a society, thinks recreational drugs are OK. People like to do things they know they shouldn’t. That’s the simple story and the true story.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    STR, Hector said in comment 6 that clerics who don’t believe in core tenets of Anglicanism “should be summarily fired and defrocked”, also saying that Dawkins “should not make such claims (even if they are true) unless he has good evidence.” He later wrote at length about his desire to see these people identified by Dawkins and punished in comment 16:

    “For what it’s worth, I’m an American Anglican (=Episcopalian) with fairly conservative/literalist views at least as far as the historicity of the Gospels goes. I think it’s a big, big problem that there are clergy in my church who don’t believe the basic elements of the Christian Faith, and I’m annoyed by the fact that Dawkins seems to be trying to ‘normalize’ these folks and to suggest that they’re to be admired, respected or condoned. Spong should have been defrocked and excommunicated, period.”

    Is my conclusion that Hector, based on his statement, would have liked Dawkins to identify these bishops so that they could be punished by their church, off? I think not.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Str –

    And please, spare us all the constant reference to an irrelevant, uninteresting website.

    Dude, it ain’t my website, or my preference. I’d love to duke it out with you here. But the rule of the people who run this site is ‘journalism only’. (Though I’ll admit it seems less enforced when the topic is someone like Dawkins and how terrible he is.)

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Folks,

    I have not followed this discussion thread but just saw the last comment and Ray Ingles is absolutely correct. We welcome you to take non-journalism discussions to the coffehouse. This site, however, is for discussion of how the media treats religion news.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    I’m sorry but we may need to shut down this thread. We’re here to discuss journalism.

  • str

    Randy,

    he that they should be fired and actually I agree. If all were right in the CoE, they would.

    But such observations about what’s right doesn’t entail the expectation that they would nor the intention that Dawkins should name names for proper punishment.

    (Am I interpreting you right, Hector?)

    Your claim on this, Randy, sound very Dawkins-esque to me, imagining a sort of inqusition behind every corner.

  • str

    Sarah, Mollie, Ray,

    is it not a journalism question, why the article never pressed Dawkins on his claims, nor his background?

    Everything else followed from replies to these questions.

    The only non-journalism postings I see are references to a irrelevant website that no one cares for.

    I agree with the restriction of this blogs, but that doesn’t mean that I want or need some other site to “duke it out” (whatever that means).

  • R9

    Well anything can be made journalism related by sticking a token “what I want to see the press cover is” before heading off into an agenda of choice…

  • teahouse

    R9,

    your own posting above wasn’t that articulate about the journalism angle either.

    And if you would merely desist from talking about websites that NOBODY wants to visit, I would be glad.

  • R9

    It’s true the coffee-house has largely been a failure. Altho your angry opposition (allcaps=shouting) to the very idea is quite odd.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    str, I’m not imagining an inquisition if Hector said that he wanted an investigation of these bishops and their removal because he thought these bishops’ existence was a scandal.

    Too much of the criticism of this NYT profile, in the blog pot and in the comments, seems to depend on this celebrity profile being something that it was never going to be, and on a lack of knowledge on the part of others. The likelihood that Dawkins and the NYT would out Anglican dissenters (at least, ones who haven’t already been outed), was pretty low: this was a profile of a person, not his controversial friends, published in a journalistic outlet not devoted to supporting particular ideological factions. The common knowledge in the United Kingdom that the sorts of Anglican clerics Dawkins described are quite common and have been tolerated by the church for decades wasn’t picked up by the reviewer, who could have done a simple search to see whether that claim had any backing.

  • teahouse

    I give up, Randy. You obviously are not prepared to read beyond your preconceptions.

    That the NYT prints a celebrity piece on Dawkins is the actual scandal. Would they do the same on other people whose sole claim to fame is bigotry?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    teahouse – I think what I’ve pointed out above shows (a) Dawkins has more than one claim to fame, and (b) claims of ‘bigotry’ are… er… questionable.

    For example, the Terry Eagleton quote from the article above is oft-repeated, but, say, a different reviewer’s response is less noticed: “That is unfair, because millions of the faithful around the world believe things that would make a first-year theology student wince. A large survey in 2001 found that more than half of American Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians believed that Jesus sinned—thus rejecting a central dogma of their own churches. So how is a would-be iconoclast supposed to tell exactly what the faithful believe?”

  • teahouse

    Ray,

    a) Yes, he also had two pretty stupid ideas that in the widest sense could be considered science. Famous, but nonetheless stupid.

    b) Your quote boils down to the observation that many Christians are badly catechized – or many theologians, as it not always theologians that are right.

    But how does that make Dawkin’s bigotry – religion as a pathological delusion and akin to child abuse and recently his attempt to have the competition arrested – and self-rigteousness – oh, those benighted, intolerant religionists, oh, us enlightened, tolerant atheists – and any less bigotted and self-righteous.

    If Dawkins doesn’t qualify as a bigot, there is no bigotry in the world.

    And that’s my final world on the man.


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